Peepal threat to bridges

Aug 27, 2012, 07:13 IST | Vivek Sabnis

Of 11 bridges over river, most sport peepal saplings that came up naturally; experts say civic body should remove these plants when young as their roots can dig deep into cement-concrete and destabilise bridge foundation.

The bridges on the Mutha river in the city are under threat because the tenacious roots of several peepal trees are damaging their foundation. Eight of the 11 bridges on the Mutha that are maintained by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) are facing an acute problem because of peepal trees. Waking up to the problem, the road and bridge department of the civic body has said it will appoint a consultant to determine the extent of damage caused to the bridges by the rampant growth of peepal saplings. A MiD DAY survey of these bridges on the Mutha revealed big trees were growing on the divider ducts and posing a threat to the foundation of these bridges.

Uproot these now: The sides of the Nava Pul (Shivaji Bridge) show a thick growth of peepal saplings. Other bridges have peepal and other trees growing even in the road divider duct. Pic/Krunal Gosavi 

The most peepal trees that could be a danger to the structure were seen on Nava Pul. On Mhatre bridge, random growth of trees in the middle of the road was found to be the problem. Besides peepal, there were banyan and castor trees in large numbers.  Rajaram Pul and the Gadgil Bridge, which is only for two-wheelers and also has a cycle track, are also facing a similar problem. Dr S G Mahajan, a veteran botanist who observed overgrown peepal trees on the Nava Pul (also called Shivaji Bridge), said that though the bridge had stood the test of time and even survived the 1961 flood, it faced a real danger from the unchecked growth of trees. 

Growing menace: Peepal growth on the Yashwantrao Chavan bridge

“The bridge did not fall during Panshet floods in 1961, but it may fall now, only because of these peepal trees,” Mahajan said.  “Why is the PMC ignoring the rampant growth of these trees on the bridges?” He said the other bridges in the city were also facing a threat from trees, including banyan and other species of ficus.  “The municipal corporation should start a special drive to eradicate these trees from the bridges,” he said. Arun Gangapurkar, a senior citizen who uses these bridges on his morning walk, has observed the trees on bridge railings as well as road dividers.

Similar growth on the NV Gadgil Bridge. Pics/ VivekIVEK Sabnis

“The unplanned growth (of trees) is obstructing the vision of commuters and may cause an accident someday,” Gangapurkar said. “The trees on the railing have been destabilising the cement concrete and weakening the bridge structure. After these saplings are successfully removed, the gap created by these roots should be filled up with cement or tar.”

Madhav Gogate, a retired chief forest conservator who has done research on various Indian trees, said the peepal was well known as a tree that eats into structures and weakens them. “Peepal is also known as the ‘strangulating fig’, which
virtually strangulates and weakens the structure,” Gogate said. “These trees grow from the seeds deposited with bird droppings. These trees need to be axed regularly to save bridges and structures.” 

The other side
Pravin Gedam, PMC executive engineer (bridges), admitted the tree saplings on bridge railings were a problem. “We are soon appointing consultants to study the present conditions of these bridges. The PMC is going for tendering for the purpose of inviting experts to act as consultants who will study the bridges.”  Pramod Nirbhawane, PMC additional city engineer (roads), said the focus of the study would be the old bridges on the river. “The study will be focused on the old, historic bridges in the city, including Nava Pul (Shivaji Bridge) and Bund Garden Bridge. We want to save and restore the bridges,” he said. 

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